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tv   [untitled]    December 12, 2011 7:00pm-7:30pm PST

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[applause] >> good evening.
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welcome to the meeting of the commonwealth club and forum, connect your intellect. you can find us online. you can follow the best of our conversations on twitter. i am the author of the "this is your brain on music. " i am a professor of psychology and behavioral neuroscience. i am delighted to introduce you to my friend, one of my famous -- favorite guitarists and musicians. he discovered the guitar at a young age. he has played at notable vilnius such as the -- notable venues such as montrose and carnegie hall. >> i would like to start by
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saying that in the last 15 or 20 years of my research, one thing i found most surprising as a musician myself in exploring music and the brain is how -- discovering where it is that music is. i always imagined as a player that the music was in my fingers. now i know is in the brain. it is a neuro-representation of the figures. music is in every part of the brain that we have mapped. there is no part of the brain that does not have something to do with music. i found that very surprising. i wondered if you find that surprising as a player and what your own intuitions were coming into it. >> i think my intuition is that music is something that gets received in some sense or another, like radio, like
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something you pick up. it is a vibration. when i have written my own music for the guitar, a lot of times it is the result of having experienced something and having to absorb it like you might absorb a vibration or light our experience something rhythmic like walking down the street. >> a lot of composers say they feel like they are not really creating the music. they're channeling it. roseanne cash talks about holding up her catcher's mitt and catching one as it goes by. someone else talks about how the music is everywhere for anyone to take, that you just have to tune into it. >> driving down here today, there was a rough patch of road because there was construction. you are feeling the road.
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it makes you aware that no matter where you are or what you are doing, you could be some ki, and you hear something may be rise out of that rhythm. for me, personally, a lot of times the idea for writing a piece of music or making arrangement comes from some sort of rhythm. a lot of people would say, do you get the melody first or the rhythm? i always say i get the rhythm first and the melody comes out of it. >> could you play us an example of may be something where the rhythm came first? and maybe just play the rhythm. >> i will try. this is a piece called "cumulus rising." this is from a piece that i did in 1998, on the theme of water.
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this is sort of the theme of water rising through a team less clout. it does not have to be, but that is the sensation that gave me the idea. -- cumulus cloud. >> if you could play the rhythm first. >> i will tap it. [tapping] pretty simple. then i will play a little bit of it.
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♪ >> i will leave it there. [applause] >> one of the things that people often ask is what is happening in our brains when we hear a piece of music. it is extraordinarily complicated. a sound enters the years and
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there is a cascade of their rick complicated processes that turn the changes in air pressure to an electrical signal which gets transmitted from the year to the brain. once it hits the brain, it gets even more complicated. it turns out there are distinct regions of the brain that process different aspects of the sound. one part of the brain, you can think of it as a special purpose circuit, attending to and processing their read them. then there is a separate part processing the pitch, a separate part combining the pitches and duration into melodies, a part separate from that attending to how loud or soft it is, and it all comes together later and get this seamless impression of this beautiful melody and harmony, yet, it is processed piecemeal.
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one of the sources of information of this is we have patients who are damaged in one focal portion of the brain and they lose one of those elements while retaining the others. they may lose rhythm or they will have to pitch and harmony. >> is it processed in real time? simultaneously? >> yes, but quickly. when i say later, later in brain time means maybe 1/30 of a second later. any second, it can be disrupted , and you to organic brain injury or trauma, it can be disrupted. it is remarkable. the player, at some level, perhaps unconsciously, are having to think about the elements unconsciously. >> i teach a lot of workshops and a lot of people come to play our master classes, they come
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with their own performance, arrangement. they are looking for feedback. one of the things that i always say, because, as a musician, we try to get everything at once. all of the elements. we tried to simultaneously get the rhythm, melody, the subtleties, dynamics, accent, all those things that make music interesting. but a lot of times, it is good practice to tear them apart. solo guitar playing, for example, polyphonic music, you have a melody and a baseline, maybe an accompaniment, 3rd voice or harmonic accompaniment. i always suggest people to tear them apart, work on the melody, just work on the base, rhythm,
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accompaniment. that provides an important process to understanding how these elements have to happen simultaneously. >> when you are writing, as a fan of yours, for decades now -- i think your first record came out in the 1970's. >> 1978. >> that is right. as a fan, one of the things that struck me is you did not sound like anyone else i had heard, and you still do not. when i listen to any other guitarist,, composer, you can hear their influence, who they took this idea or technique from. your music just sounds fresh and novel. i wonder if you might be willing to disclose to us some of your influences and how they gave rise to your compositional
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playing style, and maybe demonstrate them. >> i like to joke, i did not learn how to play anything else really well, so i had to come up with my own. it is true, i found this out later when i was teaching. can you show me that solo to that song? do you know how it goes? i am useless at that. i am not very good at cataloging other people's music. i certainly had my influence is growing up. i started playing the guitar when i was 12th. i was a big fan of the pope, blue, british isles scene, mississippi john hurt me, sonny terry brown mcgee, i played some blues harmonica. >> did you learn that open tuning style, slide style?
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>> i have not picked up a slide in a long time, so i do not want to embarrass myself, but yes. it was a lot of folk music, blues and early on. i fell in love with the sound of the steel string guitar. there are a lot of idiomatic thing that it does well. i studied classic guitar a bit, but the steel string, for example, we do something called a hammer on and pull off, which is -- >> you get three note for the price of one. >> you plug the string but you get four notes. i always think of that town at the the prototypical steel string guitar sound. british isles, a caltech music.
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i learned all the paul simon songs. as i got older -- >> he is a hell of a guitarist. people do not realize. he is not flashy, but if you try to learn his tunes, they are really hard. >> he is a brilliant guitar player. i eventually got interested in jazz, world music, everything. maybe that is one of the reasons. i enjoyed so many kinds of music, i did not have a preference. i did not want to be anything in particular. i just wanted to play guitar and get that sound that i was hearing in my head. >> is there a particular song of yours that you can trace back to and influence, sound that you were trying to get that you heard somebody else use and you wanted to use it? >> i will play you a few bars
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from a piece that i wrote in the 1970's, very much influenced by the british isles style. this one is called "inverness." ♪ >> i am cutting it short, but, to me, that is the quintessential british isles style. >> although, in your hand, it is more harmonically complex. >> it could be. >> one of the things i was trying to do -- i became a big fan of keith jarrett when i was young.
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i thought, wow, if i can do something like that with a guitar -- and i remember, i was a student at uc-berkeley, considering going to graduate school in economic geography and working as an intern coming here at the san francisco planning department. i was also a record in my first album. i wrote this piece called " turning, turning back." it began the recording but it also began a new direction for me. they say every musician that starts recording for writing, arranging music, they have to find their own voice. i think i may be found my own voice in that one. >> are you going to play some of it? ♪
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>> just playing an excerpt from the middle, -- time part. -- double-time part. the main theme -- ♪ [applause] >> that is the main theme. >> often, when i listen to
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guitar players, because i'm a guitarist myself, i'm trying to figure out what they are doing and how they do it. i cannot do that when i listen to you. the music for " washes over me. for me, it is so immediately engaging and hypnotize him. to be fair, the other part of it is, in 1000 years, i could never do that. there is a technical component to would you do, and i am reminded, one of your albums was reviewed by "coo guitar plar magazine." i am prepared praising he said something to the effect of, listening to alex thrusts fellow pickers to the brink of decision. do i give up everything else in my life and practice like a madman or throw my guitar down the chasm?
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>> that became a staple in my press packed with back then. today, to be honest, there are a lot of talented young players out there. the whole scene has developed so much, the technique has really moved forward a lot. >> and each generation can learn from the previous. leo cocky learn from fahey. each new generation has these new musicians to slow down and learn a note by note. on the technical side, when you write, maybe do not want to give away your secrets, but are you writing in real time, at that tempo, or do you write slowly and learn to play faster? >> i used to do everything intuitively, did not write music, i would not think about what i was doing. i would fiddle around -- i use a
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lot of alternate tooting. i would emerge a few hours later and say, this is what i have got. it was a cathartic experience for me. over the years, i have become a little more analytical. today, my approach is a balance, and intuitive process where you allow yourself to empty your mind a little bit and let stuff come in so that you can experience what is going on around you in a way and translate that into musical experience. >> it is interesting you talk about emptying your mind. there was a brain imaging study published where my colleague, charles lim, a narrow scientist, put some composers in an mri machine. if any of you have had an mri to see if there was a broken bone or cancer detection, we have a
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special version called functional mri, wary can track the flow of blood in your brain. we put people in the scanner and we had people mentally practice their tennis serve, catch a late meth problems, or think or listen about music. you can see which regions of the brain are active by following the blood. what charles found is by people improvising or composing, you would expect for something that is that complicated, would require so mineral resources, you would expect a primary finding in his would be lots of activation in particular areas of the brain. paradoxically what he found was deactivation in the prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that is the editor, tell you that is not good enough, inhibiting you from blurting things out.
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the great improvisers had turned that part of their brain off. from your intuitions as a composer, science is a step behind art, but we were able to find that. just from a player's standpoint, as you develop your skills over time, maybe studied in school, self-pop, but you build up certain skills. when it comes time to improvise or sit down and start to work out something musical, sometimes you have to forget all that stuff. push it out of your mind. it is a handy tool to be able to bring back and say, what am i doing here? i am and 3/4 time, 12 measures of this, and then it is going to go to a bridge or a second measure or something. >> to clarify one point you were
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talking about, using alternate to earnings -- for those who got not know, there is a standard way of turning the guitar. there are people like alex and david crosby, and joni mitchell, who tune differently to spur creativity or just to play around. there is a great sense of play in that. most of your pieces are in non- standard to make. among those, there are even some standard ones and you do not use those. >> you bring up an interesting point. a lot of times, musicians use these alternate to earnings as a way to escape what we know. sometimes we get trapped. i know that is a c sharp minor court, that is a b flat. where would i go from there?
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instead of listening to the experience, and the image, the mood, feeling of what you're trying to convey. sometimes, they bump up against each other. when you are doing a good job as a composer, improviser, you are sticking with the image, not bring about what the court is. >> one of the things that i get from your music is a strong sense of place and imagery. when i listen to your music and close my eyes, i see pictures of different things. a lot of people that i have talked to that have heard your music experienced the same thing. what has been said about japanese ink artists is their entire emotional state is contained in the brush stroke. if you know how to read it, you know a lot about the artist. i wonder if that is something you are consciously putting into
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the music, putting in imagery, or something the music gives to you, and then you are discovering for yourself at the same time? >> personally, a little bit of both. a lot of times you come up with something and you say, that reminds me of -- something. it reminded of some place i was, the desert. sometimes it works the other way. you take a walk and your mind has this image. you start to translate that, as a visual image, or tactile experience, into something musical. how that happens is difficult to explain, but it certainly happens. >> it is mysterious, and to tie it back to science, i had a graduate student at uc-berkeley
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who came to work with me at mcgill. for his doctoral dissertation, he wanted to study the extent to which we can understand what musicians are doing by looking at them, observing their movement. it is worth pointing out that there cannot be any music without movement, no sound without movement. sound is the molecules in the air vibrating in particular ways. there is no sound in a vacuum because there are no molecules to vibrate. all sound, including music, has to begin with some motion, movement. in the case of movement, -- music, it is the body moving, somebody pressing a key, striking, blowing, plucking. even singing, there is movement of air through the vocal cords. what bradley did is he took performances of musicians, in this case, a clarinetist playing
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stravinsky, and we had people come into the laboratory and we turn off the sound. as they listened, they had to write what they heard going on emotional and structurally. a different group of people came in and they had the sound on and the video off. a third group had both. it turned out the group that only saw the performance and were unfamiliar with the ps new a great deal about the emotional structure, when the emotional peaks were, they knew a great deal about the tension in the peace, and i knew a great deal about where the phrases began, just by looking. but when you saw and heard, the amount of information conveyed was more than the sum of its parts. we corroborated this later with elektra physiological measurements, skin response, the amount you sweat while listening
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or viewing, correlated with the musical content of the peace. -- piece. >> maybe i should pay more attention to my sweating. >> to the extent that your body movements are evocative of time and place, feelings, they are naturally becoming part of the musical stream, it would seem. >> right. interesting. you and i were speaking the other day, talking about the word he motion, which includes the word motion. -- emotion, which includes the word motion. dance music literally makes people get up and move. a lot of time, music is more contemplative, moves people in different ways. the matter with your physical move it or not, something is moving. maybe you can explain what is
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going on in the brain, going through that emotional experience, listening or playing music. >> on the emotional side, there are a couple of clues. cognitive neuroscience is in its industry here try to sort of music. -- in fancy here trying to sort out music. there is a well-known pleasure center in the brain. this is the same center, when you hook an electrode up to it, rats will keep pressing a button to stimulate it. they will give up food and sex to keep pressing stimulation to this area. it is the same error that is activated when compulsive gamblers are winning a bet or when drug addicts get their drug of choice. it modulates the brain's levels of dopamine my colleagues from stanford and i show that when you listen to music to like,
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found pleasurable, that eric is activated and it is modulating dopamine. a student of mine showed, she was able to get her hand on a radioactive tag for dopamine, so that we could fall in people's brains. dopamine was increased when people listen to pleasurable music. dopamine is involved, as many of the brands chemicals are, in many things, but it is also the pleasure hormone, the feel-good hormone. i am not saying it feels like winning a bet or taking a drug or having sex, but invoked the same system. another thing, when people listen to music together, oxytocin is released, a chemical associated with bonding and trust. trust. is what mother's release when

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